A brief History of Pelican Island

In his book “Glimpses of Old Barbados”, Mr. Edward A. Stoute SCM, notes that Ogilby’s Map of 1670 records Pelicans to the north of Carlisle Bay; the map by Robert Morden of 1680 and one by Ford of 1681 recorded a place just north of Carlisle Bay and opposite to Fontabelle as Bagnall’s Point.

There seems to be some vacillation between Pelicans and Bagnall’s Point because the map of 1689 by Thornton and Fisher reverts to Pelicans but Moll’s Map of 1717 reverts to Bagnall’s Point. What is clear, however, is that there were at least one and possibly three small islands off the south-west coast of Barbados at the time of its discovery. The Admiralty Chart of 1821 relative to Carlisle Bay gives three indications of possible islands; one off Fontabelle marked Pelican Island; one immediately off Ricketts Battery marked Pelican Point and another which is unmarked. The largest of the possible three was Pelican Island on which a quarantine hospital was erected prior to 1873. This was done in order to confine persons travelling to Barbados as well as Barbadians, who had quarantineable diseases such as yellow fever and small-pox.

Later, in 1916 the island was used as a research site for Marine Biologist Dr. C.C. Nutting and his group of researchers. In the book Iowa Studies in Natural History, Dr Nutting writes of the island:

“There was no turf on the island, and the ground was sandy everywhere, but there were a number of trees, including palms and Cordia, with brilliant scarlet blossoms and broad leaves… The view from the room occupied by Mrs. Nutting and myself was exceedingly beautiful, overlooking the blue expanse of Carlisle Bay, with its ever-changing array of ships from all over the world: for this is one of the most frequented ports in the West Indies, an oceanic cross-roads, used as a port of call for vessels plying between North and South America, as well as between Europe and the east coast of South America”. (pg. 51) Noticeably, Dr Nutting concludes his chapter on Pelican Island with these words: “At Pelican Island we were quite comfortable all of the time, the temperature never approaching that of Bridgetown; and the cool construction of the buildings with their high ceilings, ample verandas and abundant windows and doors, made the place an ideal one to live in”. (pg. 65)

Later still, during World War II Pelican Island was used as an internment camp and as a base for transatlantic telecommunications. Unfortunately, this little oasis, aptly named for the Brown Pelicans which nested there, was merged with the mainland during the development of the Deep Water Harbour in 1961. The Pelican Craft Centre originally built in 1964 takes its name from that island.

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